Having fallen in love with Haworth and its spectacular surrounding countryside on my first visit to West Yorkshire, it's easy to see why one of its most famous inhabitants — Emily Bronte — was crippled with homesickness when forced to leave her beloved moors.
The author of the literary masterpiece, Wuthering Heights, bade a sad farewell to her home on several occasions, to go to school, albeit briefly, to teach in Halifax and to attend a boarding school in Brussels with her sister Charlotte. But the most reclusive of the three Bronte sisters only ever felt at peace when walking the moors with her dog Keeper.
And it's to these wild and windy moors — the backdrop for Wuthering Heights — and the postcard-pretty village of Haworth, that thousands of tourists make a pilgrimage each year, to follow in the footsteps of Emily, Charlotte and youngest sibling Anne.
The Bronte Country, which straddles the West Yorkshire and East Lancashire Pennines, is rooted in rural Haworth, a quintessentially English village with cobbled streets, flower-fronted houses, quaint tea-rooms and quirky vintage shops.
The focal point is the Bronte Museum, once the Parsonage and home to the family.
The novelists grew up in this formidable house, overlooking the church of St Michaels and All Angels, where their Ulster-born father, the Rev Patrick Bronte, was curate. The Parsonage stood on a hill above the village, which, back then, lay clouded in soot and smoke from industrial pollution and where sanitation was grim. Ghostly gravestones loomed large outside their windows — little wonder then that the Bronte children would escape to the fresh air of the heathery moors that surrounded Haworth.
These days the old, stern Parsonage is a beautifully preserved museum, a lasting memorial to the Brontes and to their great works. Step inside and you can almost picture the scene — the Rev Bronte at his books in the study, the sisters scribbling at the table in the dining room. It's in this room that the three are believed to have written Wuthering Heights, Jane Eyre and Agnes Grey and where, sadly, Emily died on a settee at the tender age of 30.
The museum boasts books, manuscripts, letters, paintings, drawings, clothes and personal possessions of the Bronte clan and provides a stark insight into the isolated lives they lived here. No trip to Haworth is complete without a visit to this wonderful Bronte shrine.
Our base for the weekend was the Old Registry on Main Street, a tastefully decorated guesthouse which, like so much of Haworth, cleverly combines the olde worlde charm of a bygone era with modern life — flat screen televisions, Wi-fi connection, four poster beds and whirlpool baths.
The breakfast menu alone is worth a stop-off at the Old Registry and provides the necessary fuel to prepare for treks across the moors. Another nice touch is that the owner makes up a packed lunch for walkers, complete with flask, rucksack and map of the area.
My friend Michelle slept in the Tudor room, with breath-taking views over the countryside, but I was swayed by the
five-star bathroom of the guesthouse's jewel in the crown, the Memories room.
There are plenty of good restaurants and bars in the village, Embers, Weavers, The Old Hall and the Black Bull (the favoured drinking den of the Bronte's troubled brother Branwell). But you can also dine out beyond Haworth's cobbled streets.
The moors are dotted with cosy, country pubs, like the wonderful Grouse Inn and in nearby Stanbury, Wuthering Heights and the Old Silent Inn. The latter was a gem of a find, good food, friendly atmosphere and welcoming staff. It's reputedly haunted and we had been hoping we might catch a glimpse of Cathy and Heathcliff at one of its windows.
However our amiable host informed us that in the seven years he'd worked there, he was yet to come across such an apparition.
If rail travel is more your thing, Haworth boasts old-fashioned steam trains that take you through the Bronte Country. This is where the 1970 classic movie The Railway Children was filmed and the Keighley and Worth Valley Railway is a must-see, particularly for the younger visitors.
The village is only about half an hour from Leeds, if you feel in need of the bright lights of the big city and some retail therapy at Harvey Nicks. And with Jet2.com offering direct flights from Belfast to Leeds/Bradford, you can be there in a hop, skip and a jump.
Of course, the main reason tourists flock to Haworth is to take in the rugged landscape that is so vividly brought to life in the Bronte novels.
The Bronte Way is well sign-posted in both English and Japanese, so there's not much chance of getting lost out on the moors.
We began our walk in Haworth itself, passing the church that holds the family vault, heading up to the Bronte Bridge and onto the Bronte waterfalls.
Beyond there, a path leads on up to Top Withins, the remains of an old house believed by many to be the inspiration for Emily's Wuthering heights. Given the Brontes' strong links with Ireland — not only was their father born in Co Down, but Charlotte married a man from Co Antrim — it's surprising that more people from these shores don't visit the beautiful country of West Yorkshire.
I already have my next trip booked, a little cottage overlooking the house where the writers grew up. I'm hoping their literary genius might rub off me or that the wild and windy moorland provides some much needed inspiration.
After Emily's untimely death, Charlotte wrote: “My sister Emily loved the moors. Flowers brighter than the rose bloomed in the blackest of the heath for her; out of a sullen hollow in the livid hillside her mind could make an Eden. She found in the bleak solitude many a dear delight; and not the least and best loved was liberty.”
If you ever visit Haworth and Emily Bronte's cherished moors, I guarantee you'll understand.